RWP = Rainbow Warrior Perspective
HAWAII @ WYOMING
Location: Laramie, Wyoming (War Memorial Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 18th at 9:00 a.m. (Hawaii Time)
Television: Spectrum Sports PPV (Hawaii only)
Streaming: Team 1 Sports app (mainland only)
Radio: ESPN Honolulu
Head-to-Head: This series dates back to 1978 with the Cowboys leading 16-11. Hawaii and Wyoming have been in opposite divisions ever since the Rainbow Warriors joined the conference in 2012, yet this will be the fourth-consecutive year the two programs have faced each other. Good news: the two teams have alternated victories the last six matchups and Wyoming won last year’s contest 27-20 in Honolulu. Will the trend continue? The Paniolo Trophy is at stake.
Spread: Hawaii +13.5
Three things to look for:
1. Is this Hawaii defense for real?
Hawaii started conference play in Vegas against UNLV, who has strangely turned out to be the best team in the Mountain West through mid-November. From that first conference game, Hawaii gave up a minimum of 35 points in four consecutive contests. In that stretch the Warriors conceded 41 points to San Diego State and 42 points to New Mexico, two offenses that have otherwise struggled mightily in 2023. Defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro and his defense were facing pressure from critics.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the coaching offices in recent weeks. I don’t know what changed, but Hawaii’s defense has made an improbable turnaround. Against Nevada, the defense held the Wolf Pack to 14 points in their own building. The defensive unit forced 6 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. An Air Force offense that was on a tear was held to 13 points and 315 total yards, led by safety Peter Manuma who was voted MWC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. The defense forced four turnovers on a typically disciplined Falcons offense.
Can Hawaii take this defensive form on the road to Laramie? The answer to that question will play a large role in whether or not the Warriors can extend the winning streak to three.
2. Unsure what to make of Wyoming
The curious case of the 2023 Wyoming Cowboys. The Pokes opened the season with a double-overtime win over Texas Tech, then weeks later pushed Texas to their limits, then defeated Fresno State before entering their bye week with an understandable one-possession loss to Air Force in Colorado Springs. All is well, the Cowboys are a legitimate conference title contender.
As seems to be the case with the Craig Bohl era, things are never as bad or as good as they seem. Wyoming exited the bye by being destroyed by a Boise State team that has since fired their coach. The Cowboys bounced back against to win the Bronze Boot, but then last weekend was destroyed by UNLV. Up and down, down and up.
Wyoming’s defense ranks 69th-nationally. Not a terrible number at all, but their program is accustomed to a Top 25 defense most years. Linebackers Shae Suiaunoa and Easton Gibbs are studs, typical of Wyoming’s program. Defensive linemen Jordan Bertagnole, DeVonne Harris, Sabastian Harsh are really good players, I promise, but it’s strangely not showed up in the sack column at least. In fact, the Pokes rank 118th-nationally in Team Sacks. Unusual for this program and disappointing for a defense that entered the season with high expectations.
Quarterback Andrew Peasley can be effective some days, terrible others. Running back Harrison Waylee is one of the best in the Mountain West, maybe even the country, but hasn’t quite been himself since his lower leg injury.
I don’t know what to make of Wyoming. This can be a really good team, but their range of outcomes on a weekly basis is random and all over the place. If you told me Hawaii’s wins or loses this game by 17 points, I’d believe either outcome.
3. Avoiding the post big-win letdown
This past Saturday’s victory over the Air Force Falcons was the signature moment Hawaii football fans have been hoping for. Let’s not sugarcoat things: Hawaii football has been miserable since the Todd Graham fiasco. Whether it’s the post-June Jones or post-Nick Rolovich eras, Hawaii has a strange history of dismantling their success rapidly and promptly. Timmy Chang took over a disaster.
Finally, nearly two seasons in, progress showed up in the win column in the form of a shocking victory over Air Force, who was 8-1 and featured in the College Football Playoff poll prior to their loss to Army. A signature win for Timmy Chang.
This week, however? Hawaii needs to lock-in and refocus. From Georgia all the way down to the bottom of college football, nobody is above the post big-win letdown. Heck, even this last week: Fresno State, crushed by San Jose State a week after defeating Boise State. Oklahoma State, obliterated by UCF after winning Bedlam.
Fans and the program can enjoy the Air Force win and Kuter Trophy in the off-season. This week, though, Hawaii needs to focus and build on this winning streak.
What a weekend for Hawaii football. It’s been a minute since the program picked up a victory of that caliber, against a team flirting with Top 25 status and a major bowl berth. Credit to Timmy Chang, his staff, and players for a determined and disciplined winning effort. As long as Hawaii remains competitive against Wyoming and Colorado State, this will carry over into the off-season as a sign that improvement is being made under Timmy Chang.
Saturday’s game against Wyoming is about as unpredictable as it gets. I don’t know which Wyoming will show up, and I don’t know which Hawaii will show up. I typically fade teams after big wins.
The weather should be decent by Laramie standards. I expect some give and take that leads to a close contest, despite the spread being a surprising +13.5 for Hawaii. Give me Rainbow Warriors 20, Cowboys 24.